Eats, M's, Minor Leagues, Oddity

Dash vs. Mudcats

Game time temp – 77 degrees. Holy moly – at this rate, I’ll need my parka for Hartford!

These two teams play in the Advanced A Carolina League. The Winston-Salem Dash have long been affiliated with the White Sox and the Carolina Mudcats (Zebulon, N.C.) are now with the Brewers. It was a good game, but the skill level was not up to AA standards.

For me, the coolest aspect of the evening was that the Dash is (are?) managed by former Mariner and All Star shortstop, Omar Vizquel. And there he is, coaching third base when the Dash bat.

BB & T Ballpark (named by and for BB & T, a Winston-Salem based bank – it stands for “Branch Banking and Trust Company” – no wonder they shortened it!) opened in 2010 is very snappy. It has luxury suites, an upper deck, a wide concourse and a seating capacity of 5,500. It seems very ritzy for a Single A league, but I guess the bank can afford it.

The game entered the fifth inning tied at one and there were a few raindrops before the top half ended. Most of the fans took cover for the bottom half, when the Dash quickly scored two runs to take the lead. That was it, because the heavens opened and before long, the field was a lake.

After the tarp was rolled out

The most unusual aspect to the evening was the entry, before the game started, from the left field gate onward to the first base side of 45 kids wearing purple shirts and (many of them) yarmulkes. Huh? In North Carolina? So I had to go talk with them. Turns out, they are from “Camp4Ever,” a New York area program for Jewish kids who have a parent with cancer or who died from cancer. It is a two week road trip for the kids, at no expense to them, to give them a break from the stress of their family situation. And they were enthusiastic!

After the rain started, they gathered on the concourse and sang, did cheers and chants and generally had a good time. Better yet, they cheered up everyone else who was hoping, vainly, for more baseball. I was impressed.

I must confess that I skipped the ballpark food. I was hungry when I got to town and so scouted out the best local barbeque, since North Carolina claims some bragging rights in that arena. The place is, appropriately, called Mr. Barbeque. It wasn’t far from the ballpark, and I enjoyed a platter of ribs (the meat literally fell off the bones) and what they call the chop (fairly finely chopped pork). Good thing, too, because the food at the park was ho hum, but the prices were big league.

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Eats, History, Major Leagues, Rants

Braves vs. Marlins

Next to last major league ballpark for me, SunTrust Park, where the Atlanta Braves play their home games. It was opened last year, replacing Turner Field. It is big, seemingly functional, and for my money, undistinguished. It has four levels and the seat prices are certainly lower than Houston. The main concourse is wide and the scoreboards well placed and visible, communicating lots of information.

It also features a “Memorial Garden” reminiscent of Yankee Stadium’s Monument Park. But this one has a very cool display – 755 bats make up the record for home runs set by the Braves’ Hank Aaron.

I got to the stadium early and was surprised to hear over an hour of ballpark organ music. A nice relief from the usual blaring public address announcer or blasting music of another sort.

The Braves are in second place in their division, coming off the near no-hitter by Sean Newcomb, but they started poorly, giving up two runs in the first. Pitcher Julio Teheran later helped his own cause with an RBI single, and the Braves went on to win, 5-3.

I was pleased to see Dansby Swanson starting for the Braves at short. He was the number one overall pick in the 2015 by the Diamondbacks and started his professional career with none other than the Hillsboro Hops. The D’Backs traded him to Atlanta the next year and though he’s not a powerhouse at the plate, he’s been solid on defense. And, he’s back home in Georgia.

Swanson

For the first time on this trip, the game-time temperature dropped below 90. It was 83 degrees. I hope I don’t have to rename the tour!

You’ve heard me rant about the shift in a previous post. I observed in this game a new twist (I’d actually seen it in a few games on TV, to be honest). The Marlins played Freddie Freeman straight up at first, but once he got two strikes, the third baseman moved to the other side of second. It worked – Freeman grounded to the second baseman, who was playing not too far to the right of the first baseman, in shallow right field. (Unfortunately for the Marlins, it didn’t work the next at bat – Freeman homered.)

The food was not worth writing about and hardly worth eating. Almost no variety. Boring.

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History, Travel

Montgomery, Alabama

In the last post I described the Legacy Museum here. The same organization, Equal Justice Initiative, headed by Bryan Stevenson, created and built the National Memorial for Peace and Justice on a sloping lot above downtown.

The Memorial is even more powerful than the Museum. It is organized loosely in a spiral with each county where a lynching occurred having a column, and each such column naming the victims whose death could be documented from two sources.

There are 803 counties represented with more than 4,400 victims listed. The columns continue as you move through the display but as the floor heads downward, they are suspended from the ceiling, so that all are on the same level. The “spiral” culminates in a concrete wall with water running over it, which is dedicated to the countless victims whose names are lost, but who are believed to vastly outnumber the 4,400.

Outside, lying flat, are duplicates of the columns, which are intended as public memorials in each of the counties. For a county to get their memorial, they must have the approval of the appropriate local governmental body and an agreement that it will be displayed and maintained in the town square or similar public space. To date, no county has claimed their memorial, though, as the docent pointed out, there is a required process and this Memorial just opened in April.

In some ways, the design of this installation is very simple, but it was obviously done with great thought and care, and the impact is indescribable. If you ever get anywhere near Montgomery, do not fail to visit this wonderful and sobering tribute.

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Eats, History, Minor Leagues, Oddity, Travel

Biscuits vs. Generals

There was no sign of the previous night’s storm when we left New Orleans, headed east and north to Montgomery. Despite the fact that we skirted the Louisiana and Mississippi coastline, we rarely saw the ocean. Instead, it was mostly miles of kudzu.

When we arrived in Montgomery, we went first to the state Capitol, the focal point of so much of the civil rights movement in the 1960’s.

Next came the Legacy Museum, which opened in April. It was conceived and built by Bryan Stevenson, a truly remarkable man I had the pleasure of meeting and the honor of sharing a podium with several years ago at an ABA conference when I was working on a death penalty case. Bryan has made a career of such work through the organization he founded here in Montgomery, Equal Justice Initiative. If you want a real flavor of his genius, read his book, Just Mercy. I highly recommend it. The museum is almost overwhelming it is so powerful a portrait of slavery and its legacy. If you get anywhere near this part of the country, be sure to stop. We will go to the Memorial tomorrow. You can see pictures of it on the website.

Finally, the ball game. Well, almost. On the way to the ballpark, we first smelled, then saw Dreamland Barbeque. We only had 30 minutes, so we asked if we could get some food to take to the game. They told us we wouldn’t be allowed to take their food into the park, but after telling us the ridiculous prices for not-very-good ballpark food, they guaranteed us they could feed us and get us out their door in time for the first pitch. They did, and it was really, really good. Pulled pork and sausage and an unusual BBQ sauce that was not sweet, but had a nice piquancy that really enhanced the meat. Add mac and cheese and slaw and we were happy, to say the least.

The game featured the home town Montgomery Biscuits hosting the Jackson (Tenn.) Generals. The Biscuits are affiliated with the Tampa Bay Rays and the Generals with the Diamondbacks in the AA Southern League. The Biscuits ballpark is called Riverwalk Stadium (though there is not a single indication of the name anywhere on the premises) and it is next to the Alabama River, though the river can’t be seen from the park (only railroad tracks). That’s fitting, since the stadium is a refurbished train station. It is quite lovely, and one of the locals told us it is consistently voted one of the top minor league stadiums in the country.

Game time temperature: 91 degrees. And, to my chagrin, they have the cursed Chick-fil-A foul poles, though the lettering on these was black, so one of my complaints vanished. (The violation of baseball propriety still stands!)

Though we didn’t partake, some of the culinary offerings were regional and eponymous.

We did indulge in one offering – a brownie sundae – made with chocolate ice cream. I gave away the cherry (and maybe took a bite of the brownie) before I remembered to take the picture, but it was good, especially on a hot night.

Montgomery was just one game out of first in their division coming into the game, with the Generals trailing them by a game. This game was tight and well played, with the Generals eking out a 3-2 victory. The Biscuits, in their game program, featured Nate Lowe, who was recently promoted from Single A Port Charlotte, where I saw him play (with his brother Josh) in May during my Florida tour.

Nate Lowe

The Biscuits mascot was a puzzle. Their team gear features a smiling biscuit, but the mascot is called “Big Mo” for no apparent reason. It looks to some like a rusty brown elephant, to others like an anteater or maybe an aardvark. One fan said it was a “biscuit eating beast.”

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Eats, Minor Leagues, Oddity

Baby Cakes vs. Rainiers

There was no particular reason to come to New Orleans, but given the general route of the trip, it seemed necessary to stop in to see the most ridiculously named team in all of baseball. That name came about because some of the high sheriffs of the AAA affiliate of the Marlins decided to hold a public contest to rename the team that for years had been known as the Zephyrs (a pretty cool name, if you ask me). The winner of that contest last year was “Baby Cakes” and now they have to live with it. It was not without controversy. See https://protect-us.mimecast.com/s/DnIwCERPWJf6mEJ3TNfxmD?domain=theadvocate.com

The ballpark is now apparently known as the “Shrine on Airline,” but you couldn’t tell that by looking around. Like the team, it used to be called Zephyr Park. The name is nowhere to be found. For AAA ball, it isn’t a particularly impressive and the crowd was surprisingly small, perhaps because game-time temperature was 93 degrees and perhaps the ‘Cakes (as they’re called) are last in their division.

Here’s the only baseball-related name to be found in the stadium.

Speaking of names, some of the ‘Cakes swag bears the letters NOLA (for New Orleans, La. – get it?) and their catcher bears the name Austin Nola. Wonder if that’s how he got on the team?

Nola

The theme for the game was Harry Potter Night, and it came replete with owl and several silly contests, mostly for kids. It ended on what seemed to me to be an appropriate note, though I know nothing about Harry Potter. More on that later.

Apparently Chick-fil-A has invaded the South because the foul poles here, just as in Arlington and Houston, bore their ads. Ugh!

The ‘Cakes put on an offensive show in the third. With two out, a man on they hit, consecutively, a triple, double and home run to score five. As some light rain started, Tacoma (the RAINiers!) rallied in the seventh to score three, just before the game was called on account of some very dramatic lightning, thunder and torrential rain that continued for well over an hour. We didn’t wait for the obvious (the game ended in the 7th at 5-3) but left to find flooded streets and slow going back to our hotel. See what I mean about Harry Potter?

We were looking forward to some authentic N. O. food at the ballpark and were encouraged to see po’ boys and jambalaya on the menu. We chose the latter (along with the not-so-local Leinenkugel’s summer shandy). It had some chicken, very little sausage, forgettable seasoning and a somewhat dry texture. I was disappointed enough that I had to finish it off with a dog.

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Eats, Major Leagues, Rants

Astros vs. Rangers

We got in to Houston at a reasonable hour and, on a hunch, decided to stop by the stadium to get tickets in advance. I’ve never had a problem getting tickets on game day, so I thought this was a bit of a lark, but to my great surprise, we could not get two tickets together. Instead, we were offered the option of SRO tix, so I thought that would be a good departure from the norm and give me a different perspective on the game. The price was a shock – $27 each (the Astros seem to be taking advantage of their World Series victory by jacking up all their prices), but I figured we’d have free reign over the entire building. Come on, regular season games never sell out, but apparently because it was Friday night, the Astros and Rangers and the defending world champions, there was a big demand.

So we decided to arrive early and scope things out. Minute Maid Park (I can’t say that name without smirking) opened in 2000, replacing the old Astrodome. The first thing we noticed, of course, is that the building is air conditioned (did I mention that game-time temp was 96 degrees?). It has a retractable roof and natural grass, so it is like the Marlins Park in that regard. The glass wall is an interesting feature.

The second thing we noticed was that most of the SRO spots on the first level were obstructed, as you can see here.

So, after scoping out the food options (more on that later), we ventured to the third level and that looked much more promising, until we were told that SRO tix were only good on the first level. Back to ground zero. That began a series of less than pleasant encounters with ushers who said we couldn’t stand there. We countered by pointing out that we were behind the green line and there was always some additional reason given that we had to move along. Finally an usher said we could talk to the folks at “Fan Accommodation.” Once again we were told we could only get single seats, not together, for prices starting in the mid $90’s.

We kept moving around, trying to watch the game and find a place where we could see the scoreboard, with only limited success. Finally, we went back to the third level and grabbed unoccupied seats, got ousted twice and eventually landed in some that had been abandoned and were not further bothered.

We were quite simply hornswoggled. We were not told that SRO tix were only good on the first level, that all such views are obstructed, that we would be hassled by ushers and really wouldn’t be able to watch the game. It did not leave us with a favorable impression of the Astros, of Minute Maid Park or of Houston.

To top it off, several of the Astros starters did not play and their starter, Dallas Keuchel didn’t have his good stuff. The lackadaisical Rangers we saw just a day ago simply hammered the ‘Stros 11-2, starting off with a perfectly executed suicide squeeze play in the second inning. That added a note of sweet revenge.

One perhaps unsurprising feature was the crowd singing “Deep in the Heart of Texas” after “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” in the seventh inning stretch.

Like the Rangers, they also have advertising on the foul poles. In addition to being a violation of baseball tradition (mine, anyway), they could pose a problem in determining if a fly ball is foul because of the white lettering.

I’ve heard it said that the reason baseball players get pulled hamstrings is because they only run forwards. Basketball players run all directions and that injury is uncommon in that sport. So occasionally you’ll see this sort of pre-game warm-up work going on in a big league game. I’ve never seen it in the minors.

On the food front, we were hungry by the time we got settled at our motel, so we had a late lunch/early dinner at R & K Barbeque. Very satisfying and filling. As a consequence, the only thing we ate at the ballpark was ice cream. Good, but like everything there, seriously overpriced. The food variety was not up to Rangers standards either.

Enough ranting. Next come the Baby Cakes.

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Eats, M's, Major Leagues, Rants, Travel

Rangers vs. A’s

So the accident in Reno cost me five games, but four days of hard driving put me back on schedule. I will just note a point I have made before – our interstate highway system is in poor condition, and it does not appear that much repair or maintenance is going on.

But back to the important stuff. Brother Tom flew in to join me as the Rangers took on the A’s at Globe Life Park. I should say first that it is an attractive ballpark. It is almost 25 years old, but is to be replaced with a new, air-conditioned park with a retractable roof in 2020. One of the principal reasons was illustrated at this game – 102 degrees at game time – and a sparse crowd supports the argument.

The Rangers have given up. They traded Cole Hamels to the Cubs, and their play was lackadaisical. Without knowing anything, it was easy to tell from the way the two teams carried themselves who was in the cellar and who was a contender.

The treat of the game for me was watching Rangers starting pitcher, forty-five year old Bartolo Colon, who has been in the game forever. He went seven innings, gave up six earned runs and took the loss but was still fun to watch. Talk about slow motion! The Rangers also have the aging Adrian Beltre, who is beloved in Texas, but did nothing during his stint with the Mariners. I’m only slightly bitter about that.

Colon

Beltre

The most remarkable feature of the game was five triples, four by Oakland and one by Texas. I’ve done some quick looking and can’t find any reference to that ever happening before. One of you stat freaks who has more time might find it. One of those triples illustrated my earlier point about the Rangers – it was a good hit by the A’s batter, but a hustling outfielder might have held it to a single. As it was, the loping outfielder seemed unconcerned that the runner was on his way to third. The Rangers have given up.

Here’s one of my pet peeves that you may have heard about – the shift (three infielders on the same side of second base). Why in the world don’t hitters learn to bunt the opposite way??? They would be guaranteed a single and eventually the defense would stop shifting. MLB is thinking about banning it by rule, but I say make the hitters fix it.

This ad is clever, but it offends my sense of baseball propriety to have an ad on the foul pole. (And, to my earlier point, notice how few spectators there are in the stands?)

The eats were mediocre but the prices weren’t. I had a BBQ beef brisket that was probably prepared last week. And there wasn’t a lot of variety. We’ll wait till Houston to see if we can make a sweeping generalization about Texas food. We did see one new item, but lacked the courage to try it.

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